11 Best Canon Lenses for Sports Photography (2021)

Tori Rhodes
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Before we get started, many beginner sports photographers ask me what camera model they should buy. My answer is always the same: it doesn’t matter.

Instead, you should buy the model that provides the best price to performance ratio. That camera might be a Canon 80D or it could be a Nikon D7200.

It doesn’t really matter.

Instead, I recommend spending the money you’d spend on the high-end camera on lenses. That will ensure that you take better pictures while spending less.

In this article, we list the best Canon lenses for sports photography. Put simply, these are the lenses that we’d pick. It’s our opinion, but we think it’s a good one.

Our goal with this list is to help you spend your money wisely. Without further ado, here are our recommendations.

NameCategoryProduct
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM LensBest OverallCanon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM LensBudget PickSigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto LensUpgrade PickCanon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto Lens

1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

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Pros:

  • Razor Sharp Pictures
  • Crisp and Vibrant Colors
  • Super Fast Focus Speeds
  • Integrated Image Stabilization
  • Allows for Fast Focus Throughout the Entire Zoom Range
  • Durable Construction
  • Built to Exacting Quality Standards
  • Canon's L-Series Proprietary Lens Line

This lens is an expensive beast, but it’s worth every penny. I’ve used it for sports, landscape, and portraits … the quality of the images are consistent no matter what you’re shooting. But for this review we’re going to focus on the quality of the images in this lens for sports shooting.

Canon runs this lens through an extensive (and expensive) intense quality assurance process to make sure that every one that comes off the assembly line is up to Canon’s standards.

The clarity of the resultant images will make you wonder if you’re looking at a photo or through something transparent. The colors are rich, accurate, and vibrant. And focusing is super fast throughout the whole zoom range.

2. Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens

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Pros:

  • Solid and well built lens
  • Superior range
  • Features OS Image Stabilization
  • Good balance of image quality/weight ratio and price

With an 11” length and over 3.3 lbs of total weight, this Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary will likely be your shoulder’s best friend when you go to use it.

The shorter focal length allows you equivalent of 300mm for APS-C size sensors. At its full 600mm reach, you can bring your sports subjects much closer while still having great field of view with amazingly crisp and clear details.

The Nikon version has a little better autofocus in low light, but the Canon version lacks the annoying front element rotation when rotating the zoom ring and has better sharpness throughout its range.

3. Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto Lens

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Pros:

  • Incredible image stabilization technology
  • Super sharp optics
  • Weather resistant
  • Super lightweight
  • Reversible hood allows for easier storage
  • Great for close ups …. or as a super telephoto lens
  • Great for portraits or even low-light shots

Cons:

  • Not ideal for video (autofocus is slow)
  • Expensive

This lens is one of the best telephoto lenses I’ve ever used. It makes taking close-up photos much easier, and the image stabilization technology allows me to get great close-up shots of animals without using a tripod.

It’s also my recommended lens for sports photography: sailing, tennis, soccer, etc. The autofocus slows a little on the longer telephoto settings, but the overall quality of the photos is worth the slower focus speed.

It’s also great for sports-shooting because of the shutter speed of 1/500 seconds. This allows you to shoot higher sports action with great precision and clarity.

4. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L is USM II Super Telephoto Lens

Our rating: 9 / 10

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L is USM II Super Telephoto Lens

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Pros:

  • Capable of capturing beautiful crisp shots
  • Amazing sharpness
  • Solid construction
  • Versatile zoom range
  • Ruggedized body
  • Loud focus system
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • A little heavy
  • Design is showing its age

This expensive Canon lens used to have the fastest, largest maximum aperture available, but now Sony has caught up with a 700mm f/2.8. It’s still a great lens, however, and arguably Canon’s best lens currently. It has better optics than anything else on the market, and is the preferred choice of many professional sports photographers.

This lens is also quite difficult to use, since change of aperture requires manual control from the camera body. For maximum flexibility, it therefore pairs best with a body which has all the settings dialed in and an in-body image stabilizer (or you hold your breath while compensating for tiny camera motion).

The 400mm f/2.8 is a solidly-constructed lens, with a long history of reliable performance. This lens will likely last you for the entire length of your photography career.

5. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

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Pros:

  • The weather and dust sealing on the lens is a nice touch
  • Long zoom with a wide aperture
  • Sharp images

Cons:

  • Manual focus ring is rough
  • Lens is a bit on the heavy side
  • Slow autofocus

The venerable 100-400M IS II from Canon is the king of the long zoom lenses. Featuring a built-in Image Stabilizer this classic lens will provide you with razor-sharp photos at the end of a 1255 mm reach that let you get in tight and fill the frame with your favourite athletes. Highly recommended for professional sports photographers.

6. Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2

Our rating: 8 / 10

Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2

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The Tamron 70-200mm lens weighs 456 grams (16.94 ounces), which is heavy compared to other 70-200mm lenses. We're impressed with the solidly built construction and metal barrel.

Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC G2 Lens delivers very sharp images with a nice blurred background, especially when wide open.

The 2.8 aperture also enables the camera to overcome the low aperture light of the day than its competitors.

7. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 Sports DG APO OS HSM Lens

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Pros:

  • Available in different mounts
  • The OS image stabilization, even at 300mm
  • The weather coatings for protection against rain and dust
  • Marginally sharper in the middle of the frame at 300mm
  • Autofocus on the Canon version is quicker than on the Nikon version

Cons:

  • Air from the aperture can cause the layout of the focus points to change on the Canon version of this lens add the OS to the title on the Nikon version and a good chunk of the price
  • Extremely big and heavy
  • Pricey

This Canon EF mount super telephoto zoom lens from Sigma sports a powerful professional build quality and design. It features a long list of impressive features, like lens elements crafted from high grade low-dispersion optical glass, a pair of special low dispersion glass elements, Hyper Sonic AF Motor for rapid and quiet AF performance, OS, APO, and detailed distance scales for easy use.

This lens can be purchased for Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and Sony mounts.

This lens for Canon EF cameras is designed for professional sports and wildlife photography, as well as other telephoto applications. It is typically used for extreme sports and wildlife nature photography.

8. Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

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Pros:

  • New and improved construction
  • Fantastic resolution through the entire frame
  • Incredible bokeh comes from this lens
  • Distance scales and depth of field scale for precise manual focus
  • Excellent build quality
  • Best-in-class AF speed
  • Minimum focusing distance of 0.9m
  • Built-in petal-shaped lens hood
  • Gorgeous color and contrast rendering
  • Surprisingly affordable

Cons:

  • Heavy; can be a factor if you’re traveling with a small bag
  • Relatively large for a 135mm lens

The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art lens is excellent for portraiture for two reasons: its image quality and its fast f/1.8 aperture. The quality of the images from the Sigma is absolutely stunning. The bokeh on the Sigma is just incredible.

The depth of field scale on the lens is a great feature for taking portraits as you can get the exact results you want. The f/1.8 aperture creates the bokeh you want in your portrait photos. The image that comes out of this lens is smooth and creamy. Results are crisp with plenty of detail.

9. Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II Super Telephoto Lens

Our rating: 8 / 10

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II Super Telephoto Lens

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Pros:

  • Waterproof and dustproof
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Super fast 8.3x zoom
  • 8-blade aperture
  • Powerful and effective Image Stabilizer
  • Gives you incredible amount of flexibility
  • equipped with four UD glass elements
  • Excellent contrast and resolution
  • Very sharp and quick autofocus
  • Works great for indoor and outdoor sports

Cons:

  • It is very heavy so you usually have to use a tripod with it
  • Prone to flares and ghosting in some situations including when shooting directly at the sun

Compact, durable and waterproof, the EF 300mm f/2.8L II USM super telephoto lens by Canon is one of the best telephoto lenses available to professional photographers.

The EF 300mm f/2.8L II USM combines optical excellence with advanced technologies to give you stunning results.

Equipped with UD glass elements, the lens eliminates chromatic aberration for crisp, sharp images. The 8.3x optical zoom allows you to shoot far away objects while the image stabilizer helps you create quality images when photographing moving subjects.

10. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens

Our rating: 7 / 10

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens

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Pros:

  • Has an image stabilization system, which is very useful for taking clear shots under low light
  • Very sharp and precise.
  • Comes with several lens accessories, including a lens pouch.
  • The optical zoom range is wide, so it’s perfect for many different photo situations.
  • Comes with a UV and Light Protection Filter to guard the lens against vibration and damage.
  • The lens is equipped with two aspherical elements, which is great if you’re taking pictures of objects from far away.
  • Available for Canon EF, Canon EF-S, and Sony A-Mounts.

Cons:

  • This lens is relatively expensive. However, it’s a good investment.
  • Due to the size of the lens, it’s difficult to handle for people with small hands. Also, you’ll need a good DSLR body if you want to open it all the way up to f/2.8.
  • This lens is rather heavy, especially when paired with a body that doesn’t have a wide weight capacity.

11. Sigma 50-100mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens

Our rating: 6 / 10

Sigma 50-100mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens

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Pros:

  • Outstanding sharpness
  • Fast focus
  • Great build quality
  • Includes lens hood and lens case

Cons:

  • Heavy and bulky
  • Very expensive

This Art Lens from Sigma is an outstanding performer and a fantastic lens for sports and wildlife photography. It provides outstanding performance largely thanks to one particular internal component unique to Sigma’s Art Series: HSM (Hypersonic Motor), a stepper motor which provides quick and precise autofocus.

The autofocus is impressively quick. In fact, we found it was as fast as lens we tried (on a Canon 6D). Sharpness is outstanding and is one of the best we’ve seen in an f1.8 zoom.

We found it attached to a crop sensor body gave a great balance between weight and performance (which reduces fatigue and eliminates camera shake).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best lens for sports photography?

When taking a photograph of a child playing a game, there are two main perspectives you can choose from. One is purely capturing the game action. The other is a portrait of the child just playing. Obviously, the first perspective will call for an image that shows off the action as much as possible, such as using a long, fast lens for a running person. On the other hand, a portrait-style photograph of the child is more about the expression and emotion than the actual game action.

Is the Canon EOS R good for sports photography?

Sports photographers have long relied on Canon EOS bodies, and they will continue to do so. The new R cameras are an excellent choice for this kind of photography because they are full-frame, which makes them more versatile than crop-frame bodies. They also have excellent autofocus capabilities.

Another great feature is 4K video. Most Canon cameras have wonderful video capabilities so it makes sense that sports photographers would take advantage of this. I personally prefer shooting in 4K because it allows me to crop footage later without feeling as though I am missing out on some of the frame.

The EOS R is heavier than the 5D Mark IV, which is another favorite, but for most sports shooters, the additional weight won’t be a big deal.

What is the best Canon lens for indoor photography?

If you aren’t looking to spend thousands on expensive lenses for sports photography, you can find a good option that’s more versatile and affordable. One of the best indoor photography lenses is a 50mm F1.8. It’s one of the most affordable and smallest lenses in the Canon line, yet very versatile. Although it’s considered to be a portrait lens, it is also great for indoor photography. You can also come with a Canon 50mm F1.8 STM if you want to use this lens to shoot video.

Conclusion

We all know that a great sports photographer needs to have a good camera and great Canon lenses. So, you’re going to want to set your creativity and imagination free, but if you are looking for the best Canon lens for sports photography, then you need to ensure that you have them in your bag before you’re out there in the park playing with your friends.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM LensBest OverallCanon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM LensBudget PickSigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens
Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto LensUpgrade PickCanon EF 200mm f/2L IS Telephoto Lens